What can compressed air be used for? Compressed air has numerous uses in industry and manufacturing, from paint lines to conveyor systems and a whole lot more. Read on to learn how to use compressed air and proper uses of compressed air across different industries.
What Can Compressed Air Be Used For?
How is compressed air useful to us? There are many different uses of compressed air. Compressed air is used as an energy source to power equipment or perform other types of work. When air is compressed, the energy used for compression is stored - much like energy in a battery. When air is released, this energy can be used for a variety of purposes.
- Some of the most common uses of compressed air in industrial applications include powering pneumatic tools and equipment, conveyor systems, paint/spray lines, sandblasting and other finishing processes, operating controls, injection molding, filter cleaning for dust collection equipment, cooling, cleaning and blowing.
- There are many safe uses for compressed air around the home, garage and workshop, too, such as tire filling, spray painting, pressure washing, powering fountains, and even paintball.
There are also many uses of compressed air in engineering as well as compressed air for pharmaceutical use, compressed air used in hospitals, and many applications for compressed air in the automobile industry, textiles, mining, food industry and more. Here are some of the top industrial uses of compressed air.
1. General Manufacturing
Compressed air is used widely in general manufacturing, from small fabrication and metalworking shops to high-tech aerospace manufacturing facilities. Compressed air is the preferred power source for tools and conveyor systems in a majority of manufacturing facilities. Air-powered manual tools are generally lighter and safer than electric- or battery-operated alternatives, leading to less operator fatigue. Because compressed air does not generate heat or sparks, it also reduces fire risk for manufacturers in both manual and robotic applications. Other common uses of compressed air in general manufacturing include:
- Powering conveyor systems and pneumatic robots.
- Blasting, surface prep and finishing (e.g., abrasive blasting, wheel blasting, shot peening, vibratory finishing).
- Heating or cooling processes.
- Component placing for electronics.
2. Automotive Manufacturing
Applications for compressed air in the automobile industry are similar to those in general manufacturing: powering pneumatic tools, robots and equipment, conveyor systems, etc.
- Assemblers use pneumatic machinery to lift and move heavy parts.
- Pneumatic conveyors move parts and complete car bodies through the assembly line.
- Workers use air-powered wrenches and other tools to join parts and assemble the car.
- Compressed air is also used extensively for surface prep and automotive paint lines. Powered air cleaning ensures that the car body is clean and free of any dust or debris before painting. Compressed air is also used both for paint mixing and in the paint booth. Paint spray booths powered by compressed air give cars their smooth, glossy finish.
- As automobile manufacturing becomes increasingly automated, pneumatic robots will play an even larger role in the assembly process.
3. Food and Beverage
Applications of compressed air in the food and beverage industry include general conveying as well as more food-specific processes.
- Jets of pressurized air are sometimes used for cutting, peeling and cleaning vegetables (such as onions and carrots), nuts and fruits.
- Compressed air may be used for gently mixing delicate products such as cereals, chips or leafy greens. It may also be used for drying washed salad greens and other products.
- Compressed air is used for faster cooling of baked or cooked foods before packaging.
- Food packaging may use compressed air in several ways, including carton forming, filling, carton sealing and vacuum sealing.
- Compressed air is used to air clean and dry conveyors and equipment.
- Some products are dehydrated using compressed air.
- In the beverage industry, compressed air is used to power pneumatic bottling equipment. It may also be used in the carbonation process.
Common uses of compressed air in the plastic industry include blow molding, injection molding and thermoforming. Blow molding is commonly used to shape plastic bottles and containers. In this process, plastic pellets are melted into a “parison”, which looks like a tube with a hole at one end. The parison is placed inside the mold, and compressed air is used to inflate the plastic until it takes the shape of the mold. Compressed air must be clean, dry and of very consistent pressure to evenly inflate the plastic parison. Compressed air is also used to cool the part prior to removal from the mold. Other molding and thermoforming processes also use compressed air for shaping and cooling. Compressed air may also be used for:
- Cleaning, deburring and vibro-finishing of finished plastic parts.
- Powering conveyors and other pneumatic equipment.
5. Chemical Manufacturing
Chemical manufacturing encompasses a broad range of processes and materials, which may use compressed air in different ways. Like all manufacturers, chemical plants are likely to use compressed air for material handling, control valves and other equipment. Compressed air is a safer choice for powering equipment in the chemical industry, where the risk of fires and explosions may be very high. Compressed air may also be used as process air, i.e., air that comes in direct contact with the product and is necessary in the manufacturing process. Some other applications for compressed air in the chemical industry include:
- Aeration and mixing of liquids and powders.
- Product drying.
- Cleaning of production equipment.
- Operating pumps that move liquid products through stages of production.
- Maintaining air curtains to prevent mixing of vapors and gases at different stages of production and keep personnel safe.
- Recharging nitrogen generators, carbon filters and desiccant dryers.
- Membrane filtration.
There are many applications of compressed air in the pharmaceutical industry. Compressed air is used to power pneumatic equipment such as conveyors, mixers, tablet presses, weighing and measuring machinery, and sorting and packaging lines. As in the chemical industry, it may also be used as process air to aerate, mix or dry products. Process air used in the pharmaceutical industry must meet strict standards for purity.
- In tablet pressing, air is used to mix the powdered or granulated ingredients before they go into the press and to clean the press between batches.
- Tablets may be sprayed, moistened and dried using spray nozzles during the coating or encapsulation process. Some manufacturers use a “fluidized bed” process, which uses a constant airflow to keep tablets hovering in the air during encapsulation or coating.
- Mixing and holding tanks may need to be over-pressurized using high-purity compressed air to ensure product sterility and integrity.
- Filling, packaging and bottling lines use compressed air to power equipment and conveyors.
7. Agriculture & Farming
There are many uses for compressed air in agriculture, whether on the family farm, a large farming enterprise, or handling and storage facilities. Most farms keep an air compressor on site to fill tires for tractors, trucks, harvesters, combines and other agricultural equipment. A compressor also comes in handy for powering pneumatic tools (wrenches, paint guns, nail guns, etc.) used for general maintenance and repair. Beyond these applications, compressed air is used for many other purposes on the farm, such as:
- Spraying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
- Powering milking robots and other dairy machines.
- Pneumatic conveyors to transport grains and other harvested produce from the field to a storage silo.
- Aerating tanks for wastewater treatment.
8. Auto Repair & Body Shops
Nearly every auto repair or body shop has an air compressor to power lifts and air-powered tools. These compressors tend to be much smaller than those used in large automotive manufacturing facilities, but still do a lot of heavy lifting around the shop. Compressed air applications in automotive repair shops include:
- Powering the lifts that raise cars for easy access.
- Running air-powered tools such as wrenches.
- Tire filling.
- Grinding, paint removal and surface prep.
- Paint spray guns.
- Blow off/cleaning/pressure washing.
The primary use of compressed air in construction is to power pneumatic tools. Compressed air provides clean, reliable, emission-free energy on construction sites where electricity is not available. Construction sites typically use a portable air compressor (e.g., a truck-mounted compressor) to run air-powered tools such as nail guns, drills, power hammers, saws, sanders and grinders, impact wrenches and numerous other pneumatic tools. Air-powered jackhammers and drilling machines are also common in construction. Compressed air may also be used for:
- Lifting and handling equipment.
- Digging and cutting tools for roads and tunnels.
- Road-cleaning equipment.
- Power cleaning.
- Spray painting.
Compressed air is widely used in the construction material and building supply industries for applications such as woodworking and marble and granite shops.
10. Energy Sector
Compressed air is used throughout the energy sector, including the oil & gas industry and renewable energy industry. Reliable, spark-free power is a significant benefit for oil and natural gas exploration and extraction. Common uses of compressed air in the energy sector include:
- Drilling equipment (onshore and offshore).
- Gas compression.
- Material handling.
- Powering pneumatic tools.
- Manufacturing of materials (pipeline components, turbines, etc.).
- Cleaning pipelines.
In the emerging clean energy industry, windmills are now being used to produce compressed air. The stored air can be used on demand to provide power in remote locations or generate electricity by turning a turbine. The compressed air can also be used to improve the performance of the wind turbine itself by enabling better control of wind direction and blade rotation.
Conclusion: Industrial Applications for Compressed Air
Compressed air is a safe, clean and reliable power source for many industries and applications. In addition to the industries explored above, you’ll find compressed air used in textile production, printing, mining, and even roller coasters.
A rotary screw air compressor is the top choice for most industrial and manufacturing clients requiring continual use of compressed air. These industry workhorses offer many advantages, including lower total cost of ownership, consistent airflow and higher CFM per horsepower. And with the right compressed air filtration and compressed air dryers, they can deliver high-quality compressed air that meets purity standards for all but the most sensitive applications.
At Fluid-Aire Dynamics, we sell, install and service industrial air compressors and compressed air accessories for all kinds of industries. We can help you determine your CFM and air quality requirements for your application. Contact us to discuss your compressed air needs.
Compressed Air FAQs
Can compressed air be used for cleaning?
General cleaning using compressed air from an industrial compressor may be dangerous or even illegal.
OSHA standard 1910.242.b states, “Compressed air shall not be used for cleaning purposes except where reduced to less than 30 psi (206 kPa) and then only with effective chip guarding and personal protective equipment”.
If you are using low-pressure compressed air, it may be tempting to pick up the air hose for a quick blow-off. However, cleaning with compressed air will cause dust to go airborne, where it will simply settle on something else later. Usually, a broom, duster or vacuum is a better choice for general cleaning. Things to keep in mind:
- Compressed air should never be directed at a person or animal. Highly pressurized air can cause severe injury or even death when directed at a person. Injuries can include eardrum rupture and hearing loss, damage to soft tissue such as skin and internal organs, and damage to eyes (including dislodging of the eye from a socket). Do not use compressed air to clean off clothes or skin.
- Cleaning with compressed air may cause chips, debris and small parts (e.g., nails, screws and nuts) to become airborne projectiles. Even when using low-pressure compressed air, flying debris is hazardous. Be sure to wear protective eyewear and appropriate clothing, even when using a chip guard.
- Cleaning with compressed air will cause any dust on surfaces to become airborne, which creates a breathing hazard. Use appropriate PPE (such as an N95 mask) when working around airborne dust.
- The use of compressed air for cleaning is prohibited if working with combustible dust. Many types of dust can be combustible when they form dust clouds in the presence of an ignition source. Combustible dusts include most food dusts (flour, sugar, cocoa, etc.), many fine metal dusts produced by cutting and grinding, plastic dust and many powdered chemicals. A vacuum system rated for use with combustible dusts must be used when cleaning these materials to prevent the creation of an airborne dust cloud.
Some applications, such as surface preparation, use highly pressurized air to scour surfaces. This type of cleaning is done in a controlled environment that minimizes any hazards to humans.
Can I use compressed air to clean my PC?
Compressed air is sometimes used to blow off computer equipment and other electronics. Many people use canned air, or an air duster, for this purpose. But is it OK to use air from an industrial air compressor? It depends. You may be able to use your air compressor to clean your PC if:
- Pressure is steady and does not exceed ~100 PSI.
- Air is very dry.
Use caution when cleaning a computer with compressed air. Never direct the airstream at a person or animal.
Small home air compressors are not recommended because they usually do not have an air dryer - which means the compressed air will contain excess moisture that can damage your electronics. If you have an industrial air compressor and an effective air-drying system, you may be able to safely use your compressed air to clean both the inside and outside of your PC. If there is noticeable moisture in your compressed air, do not use the compressor - instead, stick to canned air made for this purpose. Cleaning the PC with compressed air will blow out dirt, dust, pet hair, food particles and other debris that can build up in and on your electronic devices. When dust builds up inside the PC, it interferes with its cooling system, which can lead to overheating. To clean your PC with compressed air:
- Turn off and unplug the computer and open the case.
- Dust the boards and other internal components with short, quick bursts of air.
- Use a small nozzle to direct the air. Hold the nozzle about ten inches from the surfaces you are cleaning.
- Be careful when cleaning delicate components, such as fan blades. Using air that is too highly pressurized or holding the nozzle too close to the surface may crack it.